Voting records of local councilors on many websites of Dutch municipalities are hard to find. In one out of four municipal council websites, voting records can not be found in online council information. In march, in more than 400 municipalities voters will go to the polls. Finding the track records of municipal councils is not easy. This is the outcome of research (pdf) done by Open State in cooperation with YLL students of the University of Utrecht. The research covers the availability and accessibility of council information of 77 sites of municipalities in the Netherlands.
Although Dutch municipalities offer perfunctory council information, the form and manner in which information is presented differs enormously. Eighteen of the 77 municipalities surveyed have no voting records online and 21 municipal councils have no minutes available. Most councils do have an audio or video stream available, however, in most instances, these files are not searchable.
Finding council information is time consuming and muncipal council websites are little user-friendly. At half of the websites of municipal councils surveyed it takes at least 5 clicks before a visitor arrives at council information. There are no clear signs for records or minutes of council meetings. The municipality of Ede uses the term ‘Political Day’, Arnhem calls council information ‘Political Monday’ and the city of Almere calls minutes of meetings ‘Political Marketplace’.
There are no open, structured, machine readable standards in which council information is offered. Only 13 of the 77 municipalities have an open data portal but council information is not part of it.
‘When only after endless searching and much hassle citizens and journalists can see what councilors have done the past four years, it negatively affects the democratic quality of local administration. Minutes of council meetings, voting records, decisions, budgets and spending need to be easily found’, says Arjan El Fassed of Open State Foundation. ‘These are basic democratic information needs’.
Open State urges municipal councils to publish council information online in a standardized and structured machine readable format. If the government wants citizens to be more involved then the information gap between citizens and governments must be reduced.
Report (in Dutch): Op zoek naar de lokale stem: Een onderzoek naar digitale basisinformatie over lokale democratie (PDF) – Open State, YLL programma Universiteit Utrecht, januari 2014.